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Terminal a Breath of Fresh Air in Cinematic Summer Heat

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2004 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
<i>Terminal</i> a Breath of Fresh Air in Cinematic Summer Heat

Release Date:  June 18, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for brief language and drug references)
Genre:  Drama/Romance
Run Time: 129 minutes
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Actors:   Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, Zoe Saldana, Eddie Jones,

Finally, a message of hope from the summer stew of sequels and special effects!

When Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) steps off the plane at JFK Airport in New York, he is detained at Immigration. While Viktor’s plane flew to the U.S., insurgents staged a coup in his homeland, the fictitious Eastern European nation of Krakozhia. The U.S. does not recognize the rebel government, so Viktor’s passport and currency are now  illegitimate.

Unfortunately, the chief Customs and Immigration officer, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci), can’t send Viktor home, because no flights are going to the war-torn Krakozhia. Hoping that Viktor will enter the U.S. illegally, Dixon tells him “wait in the international lounge.” To his surprise, however, Viktor waits. As Dixon grows increasingly anxious and the fighting continues, nine months go by.

Meanwhile, the initially-skeptical staff of the international lounge warms up to Viktor, who wins their unanimous approval when he stands up to Dixon on behalf of another desperate passenger. Viktor also makes friends with Gupta (Kumar Pallana), an elderly Indian janitor who enjoys watching passengers slip on his wet floors after ignoring his yellow caution signs. Mulroy (Chi McBride), a baggage handler, invites Viktor to their nightly card games, where the men play for unclaimed luggage. Food service worker Enrique (Diego Luna) feeds Viktor, in exchange for him carrying romantic messages to an attractive immigration officer (Zoe Saldana), whom Viktor visits faithfully every day in the hopes that she will stamp his paperwork.

Somehow, Viktor manages to find ingenious sources of income (which Dixon systematically cuts off), as well as a deserted gate, which Viktor transforms into a room. He also conjures up some romance of his own, with a flighty flight attendant named Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But time is passing, and Dixon is unyielding. With a huge promotion on the line, he needs Viktor out of the airport – at any cost.

Steven Spielberg is a master director, and though his films cross the spectrum of genres, remaining unpredictably unique, they are usually outstanding. “The Terminal” is no exception. Out of Spielberg’s wide repertoire, it resembles most his recent “Catch Me If You Can,” which also had airport scenes and fluctuated between comedy and drama. This film was also inspired by a real situation, that of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian passenger who lost his documents in 1988 and slept on a red plastic bench at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Oddly enough, Nasseri, who has been the motivation for two other films (one French, one British), has been free to leave for years, but chooses not to. He is still at his airport in Paris.

In Spielberg’s hands, this story is given new life, and though the film suffers from a few implausibilities, they are hardly remarkable in the microcosm of society that this accomplished director creates. Funny without being slapstick, heartwarming without being sentimental, inspiring without being preachy, it is the most uplifting film I’ve seen in a long time.

Viktor is a man who defies logic. Although at first, he seems to be a poor, bumbling foreigner – largely due to his clothing and inability to speak English – he is actually a very talented, compassionate man who wins the hearts of everyone (save Dixon) that he meets. Viktor inspires people to love – and, like him, to submit to authority, even when the consequences are negative. That a character does so is a credit to Viktor’s modeling of higher standards. For, in addition to his honesty, Viktor refuses the easy route, which is often the way of the world. Even though he’s given ample opportunity to escape when the guards aren’t looking – with Dixon’s benediction – he chooses not to. It is a choice that will confuse many. But Viktor, in an outstanding performance by Hanks that harks back to “Cast Away,” is a foil to Dixon (an equally great performance by Tucci). Viktor follows the rules; Dixon lives by them. An administrator who wields his power with an iron fist, Dixon is a modern Pharisee who shows just how tyrannical man can be when he allows rules, instead of compassion, to dominate. Evil, this film seems to say, can be very subtle indeed.

Another important message that the film alludes to is the problem of homelessness. We are given a glimpse into their lives, and we are asked to sympathize. Like Viktor, many homeless people have stumbled upon unfortunate circumstances that have left them at the mercy of administrators and bureaucrats, and without food or clothing. How can we, like those who came to Viktor’s aid, assist them in meaningful ways?

Parents will want to consider the subplot surrounding Amelia, who is having a long-term affair with a married man. The relationship is rightfully portrayed as disheartening and discouraging for Amelia, yet highly addictive – yet another good message. The language is mild and there is no nudity, although there are passing mentions of sex.

The excellent acting, directing, cinematography, set, story and strong moral overtones of this film work together to provide satisfying summer fare. “The Terminal” is a breath of fresh air which is greatly appreciated in the cinematic summer heat.

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